For fans of baseball, a walk off is definitely something worth talking about, but for non-fans, the term itself may be somewhat confusing. What is a walk off in baseball, and why does everyone want to talk about it?
Baseball games can end in many different ways, but the most common end to most games is that the defense is celebrating their victory after the third out of the final inning. But in some cases, the game’s end can look very different! Some games have the offensive team celebrating instead, while the defense slowly walks off, defeated.
And that is exactly where the term walk off comes from!
What is a Walk off?
While it is a rather literal term, a walk off is that specific situation where the home team scores a run that puts them in the lead, and the game is over in the bottom of the ninth inning. Walk off hits are mostly due to singles and home runs, but sometimes errors, and batters that are hit by pitches also result in walk offs, among other types of walk offs.
How Do Walk Offs Happen?
Walk offs can happen in pretty much any way that you can score with a run in baseball. The only requirement is that it should put the home team ahead in the bottom of the ninth inning (or extras, if there are any). A very large number of walk offs happen because of hits.
Most of these hits would be either a home run or single. Doubles are much rarer, and triples are even rarer. In fact, some years there are no walk off triples at all!
Walk offs that aren’t home runs can only score a win if there is a runner on base. With a walk off home run, this is not necessary.
There are also other ways walk offs happen, but these are very specific situations. For example, if with loaded bases, the wildness of the pitcher can result in a hit by pitch or a walk. A hit by pitch is, as the name suggests, where the batter gets hit when the pitcher throws.
On top of that, if the third base has a runner in any situation, passed balls can also end the game, as can a wild pitch, which is where the pitcher is penalized for a throw that cannot be controlled with the usual amount of control – usually a throw that is very high, very wide or very short.
Sometimes, walk offs can also be due to other reasons, like steal-of-home, or reach on error.
What is A Walk off Grand Slam?
Walk off grand slams are wins for the home team when the home team has a run hit. This happens with three bases that are loaded by base runners. This lets the team score four runs – the highest possible score. There have been around two hundred and fifty walk offs that are considered grand slams in the history of MLB, starting 1916 until now.
Do Walk Offs Completely End The Game?
Yep – no matter how many baserunners, outs etc. or any factor that affects the game there are, the game ends as soon as a walk off is recorded. Officially, the baseball rules don’t use the words ‘walk off’, but it does specify that the game ends instantly as soon as the winning run happens.
In fact, even if there are two outs and the hit is scored, the inning is immediately over, even when the game-winning run is still in progress. On top of that, as soon as the walk off happens and the winning run is scored, any runs after it are not taken into account, so games that finish up with a walk off are sometimes called ‘one-run’ games.
Why Is It Called A Walk Off?
So, now that we know what a walk off is, why is it even called that? We do know that the term is very literal in its meaning, but where does it come from?
Baseball has a lot of terms that are so old that the origins are relatively unknown because of how much language is intertwined. With walk offs, though, not only is the origin of the world pretty clear-cut, it’s also not that old.
The first usage of the term goes back to 1988, when a news article talked about a walk off home run as a ‘walk off piece’. It was from a quote by Oakland A’s reliever, who said that a walk off piece is the same as a home run where the game is won, and the pitcher has to walk off the mound.
The origins are still very literal, and the word itself was abbreviated to just ‘walk off’ within a few years. Soon, it was popularized to mean any kind of situation where the home team got a score and won the game.
Famous Walk offs
There have been plenty of great walk offs in the history of MLB, with some that stand out more than others.
For example, in the World Series game of 1988, the Dodger’s Mike Davis set up Kirk Gibson’s two-run and pinch-hit home run. The Dodgers won the game in the bottom of the ninth inning in the first game.
In 1975, Carlton Fish ended the game in game 6 while waving the ball fair and hitting the left-field pole. The game is famous for being an extremely competitive game in World Series history, and even more famous for the walk off, which was recorded in slow motion for everyone to watch the moment happen.
During the World Series game in 1993, the sixth game ended when the ball went into the Blue Jay’s wheelhouse by the Phillies’ pitcher, after the left-field wall was run over, and a walk off dinger was scored.
In 1960, the game-ending home run is considered to be one of the most legendary walk offs in the history of baseball. Even today, Mazeroski is regarded as one of the greatest defensive basemen ever.
Walk offs are not necessarily rare, but they are definitely exciting when they happen! Any baseball fan will have a lot to talk about when their favorite team wins with a walk off – or perhaps loses because of it.